Amethyst: A Passion for Purple

Updated on November 12, 2019
ruby lane profile image

Ruby Lane specializes in antiques and art, vintage collectibles, and jewelry.

Amethyst Geode
Amethyst Geode | Source

Amethyst, the birthstone for February, is one of the most popular colored gemstones. Today, Amethyst can be found in many moderately priced pieces of jewelry. Until the 19th century, Amethyst held a very elite place in the gemstone world, being considered one of the 5 "Cardinal" gems, along with Diamond, Ruby, Sapphire, and Emerald.

Anklet of Queen Mereret, Egyptian Middle Kingdom
Anklet of Queen Mereret, Egyptian Middle Kingdom | Source

Amethyst in the Ancient World

Amethyst has been used in jewelry since at least the time of the Egyptian Empire. Some Amethyst mining may have occurred as early as 3000 BCE. The stone was widely used during the 11th Dynasty and Middle Kingdom period, from around 2000 BCE to 1650 BCE. Wadi-el-Hudi was an important mining locality during at the time but appears to have been depleted during this period, and the popularity and availability of Amethyst waned. It was probably during this period that the purple color first became associated with royalty. There was an active trade in Amethyst in the Aegean, and the Romans operated some mines during the Roman period of Egyptian history.

The traditional association with Amethyst continues, with Amethyst being featured in several pieces of British Royal Family regalia, including some Orbs. The Royal Scepter contains an impressive Amethyst. However, it is overshadowed by the 530 carat Cullinan I diamond.

Amethyst is mentioned as one of the stones in the High Priest’s breastplate in the Book of Exodus. The Hebrew "Ahlamah," may mean "strong," or may refer to a location where Amethyst was mined. This was translated in the Greek texts of the Book to "Amethystos." All stones had an association with the Twelve Tribes of Israel, which were identified by engraving on the stones, and Amethyst is associated with the Tribe of Benjamin.

Amethyst is also referenced in Greek and Roman mythology, in similar stories. In the Greek version, the maiden Amethystos is pursued by the god Dionysus. The goddess Artemis turns the maiden into a statue of colorless Quartz, to protect her from Dionysus. A remorseful Dionysus pours his wine on the statue, turning it purple. In the Roman version, an angry Bacchus swears that the first person he encounters will be devoured by tigers. This person is the maiden Amethysta, who is turned to colorless Quartz by the goddess Diana. Bacchus attempts to revive the maiden with wine but only succeeds in changing her color.

The word "amethystos" literally means "not intoxicated." Whether the legend springs from this meaning or the meaning from the legend is unclear. However, sobriety and Amethyst have an association that dates back to this time. Drinking wine from an Amethyst chalice was said to prevent intoxication. Perhaps a crafty ruler in the midst of negotiations drank water from such a goblet, only appearing to drink wine, and surprised everyone with his ability to stay sober!

Amethyst has always been favored as a Christian Ecclesiastical stone, often featured in the rings of Bishops. The assurance of sobriety is part of this tradition, as well.

The Egyptians, Phoenicians, and Greeks mastered various aspects of gem carving and engraving, with the Greeks mastering intaglio and relief carving by the 5th Century BCE. The Romans were skilled in engraving and carving gems, and Amethyst was one they often used. An exquisitely carved oval Amethyst, depicting the head of the Roman Emperor Carcalla exists. It was later modified, with the addition of an engraved cross and inscription, in an attempt to create an association with St. Peter.

Carved Amethyst Bust of Carcalla
Carved Amethyst Bust of Carcalla | Source
Amethyst Suffragette Pendant courtesy of The Three Graces on Ruby Lane
Amethyst Suffragette Pendant courtesy of The Three Graces on Ruby Lane

Amethyst in History

The history of gem cutting leads us to Idar-Oberstein in Germany. This area was clearly established as a mining locality for Amethyst and Agate by the 14th century. Some accounts claim that the area was mined since the time of the Roman Empire. Some Amethyst was said to come from the Zillertal Alps, on the Italian border. Idar-Oberstein had wonderful water power for their gem processing, provided by the river Nahe. In addition to cutting and polishing, the craftsmen here mastered the secrets of dyeing Agate, which they maintained until the early 20th century.

As local sources for gem material for processing became more scarce, hard times fell on the area. Some locals went to Brazil, where massive new gem finds provided all the material the cutters would ever need. Several firms with German and Swiss roots are still major players in the gem markets of South America. Idar-Oberstein has also established itself as the training ground for many of the world’s leading colored gem cutters of the 20th Century, such as the legendary Bernd Munsteiner.

While the connections to the massive finds of gem materials in Brazil, and other areas of South America, saved Idar-Oberstein as a cutting center, the volume of material impacted availability and prices. The large Brazilian discoveries date to around 1725, but the higher prices of the material was maintained until later, in the 19th century. Amethyst eventually declined in value. The gemologist, Max Bauer, commented on the change in valuation of a notable piece of Amethyst jewelry in 1904. A bracelet owned by England’s Queen Charlotte had been valued at more than £2000 in the early 19th century was estimated by Bauer to be worth only £100 in the early 20th Century. George III was said to have purchased some expensive Amethyst pieces for his wife, Queen Charlotte.

Prices were high enough that Russia’s Catherine the Great encouraged exploration of the Ural Mountains for Amethyst. Large finds of high-quality material were discovered, but not until 1799, several years after Catherine’s death.

Amethyst was quite popular in the jewelry of the late 19th and early 20th century. This may have been partially due to the abundance of moderately proceed stones, but the tastes of Art Nouveau movement also aided the popularity. Irises, violets, and pansies were favored in artwork and jewelry creations of the era and lent themselves to co-ordination with the color range of Amethyst.

One of the more unique jewelry styles at the turn of the century also used Amethyst: Suffragette Jewelry. The various groups calling for equality for women coalesced in late 19th Century England, forming the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies. A more outspoken group, led by Emmeline Pankhurst formed in 1903, the Women’s Social and Political Union. The official colors of purple, white, and green were announced in 1908, although they had been in use for some time. The purple represented dignity, with purity and hope being represented by the white and green colors. Amethyst was often used for the purple color on Suffragette Jewelry, and Peridot saw wide use for the green in some pieces. Little evidence exists that Suffragette Jewelry was produced before 1908, when Mappin & Webb, a royal jeweler, introduced a catalog of the pieces.

The movement to get the vote for women in England was largely suspended during World War I, and limited suffrage was granted in 1918, then expanded in 1928. In the United States, an amendment was passed in 1919 to allow women to vote and became fully ratified as law in 1920. However, Suffragette Jewelry never had the presence in the United States that it had in the United Kingdom.

Amethyst has also been one of the favored stones for Mexican Silver jewelry of the 20th Century, and many of the masters of Taxco Silver have used the stone.

Amethyst Set by Los Castillo, Courtesy of Antique Showroom on Ruby Lane
Amethyst Set by Los Castillo, Courtesy of Antique Showroom on Ruby Lane | Source

Quality and Sources

The beautiful color of Amethyst is created by iron in the mineral and the action of irradiation on the iron. This actually creates a crystal structure that varies from other members of the Quartz family. Cutters must deal carefully with Amethyst, as the color sometimes occurs in "layers" of varying intensity.

Amethyst is a dichroic mineral. This means that it may display two different colors, as light transmitted by the stone occurs in two different visible wavelengths. Both are violet, but one is a reddish violet, while the other is a bluish violet. When heated, Amethyst may turn the color of Citrine and loses its dichroism.

Cloudy Amethyst may become clearer and change color when treated at relatively low temperatures. Higher temperatures can create Citrine like colors in clearer Amethyst. The lower temperatures tend to create darker colors, similar to Smoky Quartz, while the high temperature treated material will often turn a more yellow color.

Ametrine, a gem material that shows both the colors of Amethyst and Citrine, can be created with heat treatment of Amethyst. Ametrine may also occur in nature but is not common. A green quartz has become popular in recent years and is often marketed as Green Amethyst. This is considered a misnomer by many in the gem field, who prefer the proper name for the material, Prasiolite.

Synthetic Amethyst is produced by the irradiation on clear synthetic Quartz. The material normally imitates the colors of the finest Amethyst and is very hard to separate from genuine high-quality Amethyst.

Amethyst is found abundantly in many Brazilian mines, and in neighboring Uruguay. India, Madagascar, and Zambia are also large producers. Russia still produces fine quality Amethyst. It is also found in the United States, Canada, and Mexico.

Amethyst may form in the pockets of geodes, and of geode-like cavities in the Earth. Pockets of over 5000 cubic feet have been found, lined with Amethyst. The largest known Amethyst lined geode, the Empress of Uruguay, is on display in Australia. It was recently vandalized, with several golf ball size clusters removed. The piece is approximately 11 feet long and weighs about 2 ½ tons, and has surprisingly high-quality crystals.

Specimens weighing over 200 kilograms have been recovered, although 700 carats is considered quite large for gem-grade rough, perhaps the size of a fist. Specimens from North Carolina have weighed in at 165 pounds.

The Royal Scepter
The Royal Scepter | Source

Amethyst Today

Amethyst is a popular and plentiful gem material. As new finds become available, exciting new pieces will become available on the market. However, by its own history, Amethyst has proved it is worthy of royal treatment.

Questions & Answers

    © 2012 ruby lane


      0 of 8192 characters used
      Post Comment
      • Andrea Marshall profile image

        Andrea Marshall 

        8 years ago

        What a thorough and interesting article! Very well done!

      • Lipnancy profile image

        Nancy Yager 

        8 years ago from Hamburg, New York

        I too love amethyst. Great pictures in your hub. My next adventure is to go digging for amethysts. There is an Amethyst mine in Georgia!

      • ayliss08 profile image


        8 years ago from Guangzhou, Guangdong, China

        Interesting and informative hub! Thanks for sharing the knowledge of amethyst. I like the beautiful and stunning amethyst. Actually, I have a collection of amethyst jewelry in my wardrobe, and I often wear them to complement my overal look. Voted up, and Cheers!


      This website uses cookies

      As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

      For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

      Show Details
      HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
      LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
      Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
      AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
      Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
      CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
      Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
      Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
      Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
      Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
      Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
      Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
      Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
      Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
      ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
      ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)